ESO: If you have played one zone, you have played them all

If you have played one ESO zone, you have played them all.

I think the above is the best way to sum up my feelings as of right now for ESO. It’s so simple, and yet I’m having trouble fully understanding why. Is it ESO specific, is it my continually growing distaste for themeparks, or a combination of both?

ESO gets a lot of major stuff right. The graphics are good, the sound is good, performance is great, and it had a solid launch from a technical perspective. I like the character progression system in terms of modifying skills and selecting 6 to fit into your hotbar, as well as being able to mix armor. At least, I like those on paper. Actually, I think one of the major issues is I like a lot of ESO on paper, and then in-game I’m either indifferent or annoyed.

Quick example; recently my character dug up a treasure chest that contained two blue weapons that were exactly at my level. They replaced two green weapons that were a level or two below at the time. This should have been a large, noticeable boost in power. Maybe statistically it was, but man it didn’t feel like it when I went into combat the next time. I felt just as powerful after equipping those weapons as I did before, and that’s just terribly lame.

Another example; exploring in ESO is better than in most themeparks. There are lots of chests, nodes, and skyshards to be found off the beaten quest path. In the first zone this truly felt like exploring, and it felt rewarding. By just the second zone, this all felt like going through items on a checklist, and while the rewards were the same, they didn’t get me excited or had a noticeable impact on my experience. Again, terribly lame.

Third example; The huge PvP zone is a giant improvement over GW2’s WvW. Bigger map, better siege equipment, better combat system, better performance; just all around superior. Yet I’m as excited to spent time there as I was in GW2; not much. Other than PvP for the sake of PvP, what am I doing there? I really don’t feel connected or care about the outcome, large or small. Dying is an annoyance in terms of respawning, and losing an objective just means a change in spawn points. There are rewards, but they don’t really mean much to me.

Combine all of the above with the general flaws of a themepark (levels, zones, level-based crafting, etc), and ESO flamed out fast for me. What’s different about ESO compared to say Rift for me is that ESO isn’t bad, it’s just not good-enough for me to spent time with. Trion ruined Rift for me with 1.2. That was clear separation. With ESO, it’s just a slow drift away.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Rift, The Elder Scrolls Online. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to ESO: If you have played one zone, you have played them all

  1. couillon says:

    I guess I’ve had my own ESO flameout. I got into the Archeage alpha 2 weeks ago and haven’t logged in ESO since. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Archeage and where it crosses paths with DF:UW.

    • SynCaine says:

      I think I really need to play AA to form a real opinion on it. I’ve heard that it’s very themepark, and then I’ve heard from people I trust/respect that it doesn’t FEEL themepark.

  2. That’s good to know – I guess my run during Beta is sufficient. ;)

  3. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    Let me quote something that someone wrote in a blog last year: “F2P fans have commented that a sub-model has built-in grind to keep you subbed. No shit. Oh the horror, a game I enjoy is designed to keep me playing.”

    I guess sub-based ESO wasn’t designed to keep you playing after all. Who would have known? After playing beta and calling it crap I know I wouldn’t. Would you have known? I seriously didn’t know, because I enjoyed so much not grouping with my guildmates in an massively multiplayer game beta as they were in a different phase or instance all the time. Oh, fun times.

    Really, this is such a shock to me as we all know monthly subscriptions make everything great. So where are we with Wildstar – is it the next subscription-based baby Jesus like ESO was for the whole one month or just another wow-ripoff, like, umm, all wow-ripoffs so far? (Hint: I think it’s a wow-ripoff.)

    • Raelyf says:

      I’m really trying, but I honestly can’t see how you managed to take a game design problem (MMO intended to be played solo) and blame it on the business model. I’m not even suggesting it isn’t the case or isn’t possible; just that you made no attempt to connect those two thoughts anywhere except in your head.

      I mean, if you’d claimed the game too grindy because the devs were trying to keep people subbed, you’d at least have had a coherent if arguable point. But how the need to keep people subbed pushed the devs into not letting you (or making it sub-optimal to) group with your guild mates I haven’t the foggiest fucking clue.

      • Asmiroth says:

        I think it’s more that business model has nothing to do with quality. F2P vs Sub doesnt mean squat when the games aren’t any good in either model.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          Well luckily at least one person here gets it.

        • Raelyf says:

          Absolutely. But I’ve yet to hear anyone at all suggest otherwise so I really don’t understand his point. It’d have been just as relevant to say ‘ESO sucks so it should be clear to everyone now that the sky is blue!’.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          It’s been a running theme here – great subscription-based games turn to crap immediately when they change their monetization model and free-to-play games which are all five kinds of shite could be utter bliss if only they cost some money each month.

          Sense: this makes none.

        • SynCaine says:

          It would greatly help you if you understood the theme before posting so much about it.

        • Raelyf says:


          The theme has been that F2P games sacrifice gameplay on the alter of the business model. This is clear in many, many F2P games (such bad gameplay you then pay to skip, as one example) – though there are also many exceptions (such as LoL, which benefits immensely from being F2P imo).

          Again, it was pretty clear in your OP that you were butting up against this concept but with subscription based models. But you never made any attempt to connect the game design decisions of ESO that you hated with it’s choice of business model. You did basically the same thing with WildStar – suggesting it would be another shitty WoW clone and again failing to link that in any way to the subscription cost.

          For what it’s worth, I agree that ESO is a bad game. I agree that WildStar will also likely be a bad game. I agree that subscriptions don’t inherently make a good or quality game. Hell, I even agree that subscriptions also influence game designers to make poor design choices in favour of the business model.

          Now, can you agree to try and make a coherent point and stop beating straw men? Your response to SynCaine’s quote was nonsensical.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          “The theme has been that F2P games sacrifice gameplay on the alter of the business model.”

          It’s just as easy to do with subscription-based games. Crappy design is crappy design, no matter what monetization model you use. Thus, it’s not an issue with monthly fees, gem exchange, item stores, or game cards; it’s a design issue on how you implement your monetization model, i.e. how much you let it influence your game design.

          “This is clear in many, many F2P games (such bad gameplay you then pay to skip, as one example)”

          You can pay to skip content in World of Warcraft, which is the most popular subscription MMO, still. (They’re double-dipping like many subscription-based games these days do: they get more money with their item store than the most profitable F2P MMO, Star Wars Old Republic does with its own.) In EVE, you can even skip playing the game completely and your skills will level up just as long as you pay the monthly fee. How come it’s stupid, stupid, stupid when a F2P game does it, but it’s brilliant game design when a subscription-based game does it? Please elaborate.

          “Now, can you agree to try and make a coherent point and stop beating straw men? Your response to SynCaine’s quote was nonsensical.”

          Syn used ESO and Wildstar as examples of the soon oncoming death of free-to-play games as subscription-based games will make a triumphant return this year. For all practical purposes, my reply was “yeah, right” back then. Like we haven’t seen this ever before. “Warhammer is not a niche title. Ok, maybe it is, but at least Rift is Warhammer done right. Well ok, turned out it isn’t really, but at least Aion is something new and exciting. Did I say Aion? Tera, I meant Tera.” Which one of those is still a successful subscription-based game?

          You cannot create another wow by cloning wow and asking people to pay a monthly fee for it, you’ll just create a shitty wow-ripoff which will switch to F2P within one year after the launch because no one will pay to play your wow-clone when they have a dozen wow-clones that they can play for free. It’s more than idiotic then to say that it’s the F2P that turned the game crap. The decision to make a crappy game was made a long before the F2P even came into the picture.

    • Anonymous says:

      The grind in those games wasn’t just to keep u subbed its what rpg gameplay is. is every RPG has this not just mmos. Mmo u pay ur sub so the dev keeps improving and adding to the game. I dont expect min max fps junkies to understand the subtly of an actual game that is more than point and shoot. Tl;dr fps players dont know shit about rpgs

  4. zaphod6502 says:

    I cancelled my sub a couple of days before my free 30 days expired. I like the game but that was only from the perspective of having levelled to 27. I haven’t touched it for two weeks. I’ve spent more time playing EVE Online and the Wildstar betas over this period.

    TESO is not a standout MMO. It is competent and solid but there is a lot of other competition out there vying for my game time.

    • mararinn says:

      I’m in the same boat.

      I’m most of the way through the main quest line (traipsing around Coldharbour at this point), but with the EVE Online 11th Birthday challenge over the last week I haven’t logged in to ESO.

      Last night I played EVE (well, truth be known I was playing forums while I had a character logged into the game), and it wasn’t until I was going to bed that I thought, “what about that other game I was playing … what was it called again?”

      What has broken ESO the most for me was not being able to play with people who hadn’t done the same quests I have, or had chosen different outcomes.

      For all its many faults, EVE Online still beats every other game out there in the ability to take a friend into the game to do whatever you want to do. The only limits are ones you impose upon yourself or that other players impose upon you (it’s a PvP game after all).

  5. anom says:

    Look a failed wow clone no way…..its really funny jester thinks eso bots are so bad because of wow not because of simple easy to program gameplay lol…..glad I smelt this turd in beta and saved my money. Sad the ip had potential to be a great MMORPG. It just turns out in the post wow era devs don’t know what a good mmo is. I love how no one gets these games are ment to be played for years not just a few months and ur maxed out. There used to be a mid game now its just npe then end game. Am I the only one who misses this if I could stand the graphics id still be playing UO. Sadly I think the last mmo I played that was really ment as a long term game other than eve was lineage 2. These games get plagued by botters and min maxers because they are hard and apparently some ppl will pay large sums of real money to get ahead in a virtual world

  6. Red says:

    I think the only solution to get an MMO of any quality of experience is to limit the population by making it very hard and increase the cost to play. Democratization is murdering MMOs.

    • kalex716 says:

      Spending 100’s of millions, and trying to cast as wide of a net as possible is a foolish approach.

      Development needs to be focused on a very specific type of end user for your product to properly resonate with your core in such a way as they feel “at home” playing your game. This builds a strong sense of community amongst the likeminded folks and helps keep retention steady over the long haul.

      Unfortunately, the above approach isn’t attractive to big budget publishers, nor is it attractive to expensive IP holders.

      I’m afraid we won’t be seeing a good MMO with either of those two things for quite some time.

  7. Jenks says:

    I had many, many years of the 1-3 month MMORPG euphoria, buying every MMORPG, loving it for a short time until I realized I hated it. I think SWTOR was the first MMO I truly hated out of the gate, the first instant regret-purchase. It changed me. I haven’t had that euphoria since, I’m seeing straight through the bullshit.

    The hype train that suddenly blew up as ESO was about to release, and now reading all these stories of people not subbing after buying it, is like a time machine. I feel like I’m reading my own thoughts, but from 4-8 years ago.

    • SynCaine says:

      ESO is the very first MMO where I really loved the game as I played the first zone, and the moment I hit the second zone I felt like I’d hit a restart button and was back to square one. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s just me (since multiple guild members kept going without pause), or if its more some combination of all the ESO mechanics and design decisions that caused it.

      I mean, how different is going to the second zone of ESO from going to the second zone in WoW? Why did the WoW transition feel smooth and continuous while the ESO one was jarring? Was it because WoW was in 2004 for me and ESO is in 2014, or is it more about the design?

      • kalex716 says:

        Perhaps its jaring only in its similarity to the former and the epiphany that derives from it?

        Once the subterfuge wears off, and the compulsion loop of any themepark is realized… Don’t we all draw the same conclusion?

        That conclusion being: If this is what I wanted to play, why wouldn’t I just go back to WoW (The most venerated, and to this day widely supported example of the genre)?

        Either way, I’ll be awaiting you to explore your thoughts on this further.

        • SynCaine says:

          But I’ve played a sad amount of themeparks. DAoC, WoW, DDO, LotRO, Rift (all to the cap), and now ESO (halfway to the cap). I just have trouble believing the subterfuge held up across five titles, and on the sixth it failed. Not saying that the 6th isn’t a factor, but I don’t think its the only or even the main cause.

        • Jenks says:

          @ Kalex – so well said.

          @Syn – I don’t know, it may be that your ESO moment is related to my SWTOR moment. I felt the same way – was SWTOR that different from LOTR, DDO, Aion, WAR, etc? In retrospect I hated them all, but only with SWTOR did I come to that conclusion so quickly – and my ability to get aboard the hype train has never returned.

          I have a feeling ‘traditional’ (the ironic tag for post 2004) theme park MMOs may be a dying breed anyway. If that’s true, then consider yourself lucky to be (completely) sick of an era at the very end of that era. The last 2.5 years of my life have almost literally been the South Park episode “You’re Getting Old.” Everyone else having a good time, while everything looks like a microwaved pile of shit to you, is not fun.

  8. Red says:

    I can’t put my finger on exactly what is wrong with ESO.

    But I can describe my experiences with early wow compared to ESO: Entering wow I walked out as a common adventurer just starting my life of adventure. I went around doing things like killing over populated wolves and killing some bandits, helping people and having them help me but nothing that treated me like an some kind of epic hero. When I did something that was epic like (Killed Ony, Marched the finally freed Marshal Windsor though SW, or killed Rag) I did it as a team member of a larger group who achieved things together. We were the heroes(plural) of Azeroth, not the dragon born who will save the world.

    Enter ESO they started spouting this your a hero crap which works fine in skyrim, but with a game that’s about working with other people it’s terribly jarring. An hour into ESO, I went back to playing skyrim and I haven’t logged in since.

    • Nils says:

      That hero thing is really a problem for me, too. It’s so much fun to gain status and grow in a virtual world – themepark or not. But if you start as a hero who defies a god and then goes on to rescue the queen, while a prophet tells you how special you are. … That’s just bad.

      The other reasons I quit after a month:

      – Multiplayer combat is not very fun. Other players move too fast / use confusing, overloaded visuals. I never know what the others are currently doing, which mob they are fighting, usually I don’t even know where they are. As unimmersive as static threat tanking in vanilla WoW was, it was really good gameplay for me.

      – I get little feedback as to what I am doing. Did I hit my opponent hard? Did my heal actually make a difference? AoE heals that I cast on cooldown aren’t a good system IMHO.

      – Single player content is fun for a while but not worth the subscription. Dungeon layouts are the same far too often (always?). Everything feels generic, the zones are clearly seperated, not one continuous world.

      – The story – especially the beginning – is ridiculous. I am the prisoner of an evil god and just walk out of his plane. Just like that. It’s really anticlimatic. Gods I should face when I am level 100. Certainly not at level 1. Queens and kings should be interested in me when I am level 40, not at level 1. And so on.

      – Too strong incentives to explore the world, which turns the exploration into achievement hunting. Who put all those treasure chests there anyway?? And lorewise skyshards are absurd, really!

  9. sleepysam says:

    Meh, this whole thing is kinda sad. Maybe someone will build the next great MMO, but it’s not on the horizon.

  10. Galien says:

    Still enjoying ESO a great deal, though I recognise that I am willing to forgive it many flaws because I’m an ES lore nerd. The crafting’s very engaging, and the zone stories are different enough to keep me interested, though I agree completely on the ‘big hero’ thing being tiresome.

    If I had to point to the one thing that bothers me the most, it’s the phasing. It makes grouping annoying and sometimes simply impossible (e.g., I can’t help someone slightly lower level with a quest if I’d already done it, which is awful) and severely weakens the open-world feeling. The only place that feels right on that score is Cyrodiil, where what you see is what you get, consistent for everyone. I have an alt that lives there exclusively and levels up via using the daily quest towns. (also good spots for mutual ganking and small-scale PvP)

    However, I am quite surprised that people are complaining about combat feedback and gear impact. Both seem fine – even excellent – to me, though my add-ons help a lot with the former. As to the latter, I had the opposite experience to Syncaine the other day – levelling partner and I had trouble surviving in Razak’s Wheel, we crafted some new gear, and the improvement was dramatic.

  11. John says:

    The problem is that most people will blame the Business model instead… it is sad but true. I did not even played ESO. Beta was enough for me to understand is not worthy for my taste. But I forsee many forum posts on the web that will blame the sub for the ESO failure.

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